(Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports)
Outside of some execution problems against Arizona on Friday night, the Calgary Flames have been playing pretty decently of late. However, tonight’s match-up with the St. Louis Blues has all the makings of a looming beat-down.
The Blues have had the Flames number in recent seasons. The Flames are without their best blueliner in T.J. Brodie. And the Blues are tuning up for what they hope will be a lengthy playoff run and they’ve won six in a row and are in a dogfight with Dallas for first place (and avoiding playing Chicago in the first round). St. Louis is going to be a motivated bunch. The Flames? Not so much.
The puck drops at 7pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Projected lines via the good people at Daily Faceoff:
Joni Ortio makes his 11th start of the season, and his sixth in the month of March. He’s 2-7-3 with a 2.94 goals against average and .908 even-strength save percentage. His underlyings are better than Jonas Hiller’s, but if there’s the textbook definition of a bad compliment, there it is.
The Flames are likely without Karri Ramo (knee), Ladislav Smid (mysterious upper body), T.J. Brodie (mid-body) and Sam Bennett (mid-body) for this game. Brodie’s absence in particular will hurt, as St. Louis had good success stuffing Calgary’s break-out attempts in previous meetings and Brodie is arguably the best at getting the puck out of the Flames end and making cool stuff happen afterwards.
Johnny Gaudreau had a three-point explosion against Nashville, but he was downright ordinary against Arizona and seemed to lack his usual pep. Everyone’s bound to have a so-so game here and there, but hopefully this doesn’t begin another trend. Gaudreau’s had three separate four-game pointless streaks this season, including one that the Nashville game ended.
Calgary’s special teams remain bad, though the penalty kill has begun to generate a lot of chances over the past couple of games. The pairings of Frolik/Backlund and Jooris/Bouma have been effective, and Garnet Hathaway began to get PK time against Arizona. They might as well experiment, I suppose. The PP needs to be better, though that’s a drum we’ve been banging all season to little avail.
14 games to go!
Projected lines from your friends at Daily Faceoff:
Jake Allen makes his 41st start of the year, and he’s been superb for the Blues this campaign. He’s 24-13-3 with a 2.28 goals against average and .924 even-strength save percentage. He’s quietly having one of the NHL’s best seasons for a netminder this year.
In almost every way you can fathom, the Blues are better than the Flames. They’re deeper. They have better goaltending. Their have better coaching and deployments. They have more dangerous snipers. Their special teams are a lot better. Their puck possession is on another level. They’re just a really good hockey club. Given how motivated they probably are to avoid Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, this game could become a laugher if the Flames are not sufficiently competent at hockey. If they start coughing up pucks or failing to clear their own end effectively, they’re going to get stomped.
WHEN LAST WE MET
This is the third and final meeting this season between Calgary and St. Louis. The Blues have won both of the previous meetings; a 4-3 victory in Calgary in October and a 3-2 win at home in December.
All-time, the Flames have a tenuous 74-73-18 record against the Blues. A regulation loss would see them drop to .500 overall. The Flames haven’t beaten St. Louis since December 2013.
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THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames begin the day four points out of dead-last in the NHL. They’re also “just” 13 points back of Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. All-told, the “tragic number” for playoff elimination is any combination of 7.5 Flames losses or Minnesota wins.
SUM IT UP
When they play the Blues, you’re not really hoping that the Flames win. You’re hoping that they can lose without getting embarrassed. Best of luck, gentlemen.